Archives for category: history

It’s the 4th of July holiday weekend and, naturally, the Dakota kids have laid in an awesome amount of meat to grill. No matter that we’re going out for several meals – it is the principle of the thing. Holiday = grilling.

As I was shoveling protein into the refrigerator and freezer, I noticed a label on one package of beef: “100% American farmed.”

I started giggling, thinking of all the marketing and labeling shenanigans that have been foisted on the unthinking public: Light, lite, natural, low-fat, low-cal ,etc.

Protein has been particularly susceptible: organic, farm-raised,  free-range, 100% gluten-free, hormone-free, 100% vegetarian raised, wild-caught, blah blah.

People, read the labels. Then decide for yourself whether you really care that your fish was “wild caught,” when in fact it was wild caught in Thailand, where food safety rules may be, er, rather lax. Or that your pork loin, “100% farm-raised,” contains up to 15% water, vinegar and marinating chemicals.

meatCRR and I grew up with the original organic protein. Our parents raised the cattle, chickens and pigs that went to slaughter to pack our freezers. We snagged trout and walleye and perch directly from the rivers and lakes. But I also don’t sweat animals that have been raised in confinement – check out how super-expensive Kobe beef is raised.

If you really care, do your homework and make your own informed decision as a consumer. Free-range may mean something completely different than what you think. You may not actually know what a GMO is — but Jimmy Kimmel does.

Just don’t be fooled by stupid labels that some PR firm was paid millions to snooker you.

Back to the beef. Americans eat 24 billion pounds of home-grown beef a year; fewer than 1 billion pounds are imported, primarily from Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

And if you want to be truly informed, read this 92-page list of USDA rules about meat additives. Then go shopping, and know what you’re talking about.

And Happy 4th of July. Grill away!

 Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

CRR is a tree hugger. Growing up on the sparsely-treed prairie, it was probably preordained that he would become a lover of trees.

During the Dust Bowl, topsoil literally blew away as winds howled down the prairie. With little natural tree cover, there was nothing to stop the clouds of dirt. Convinced that trees could break the wind, FDR ordered up “shelterbelts,” rows of trees planted by CCC and WPA workers. By 1942, 220 million trees had been planted along 18,600 miles stretching from the Dakotas to Texas. Those rows of trees defined the countryside where we grew up.

Now we have a big suburban yard with dozens of tree specimens, and CRR can name them all. When we first bought the property, the yard had been neglected for years. He brought in an arborist to identify the trees and diagnose what ailed them.

The arborist condemned the persimmon that shades the patio and a giant locust that towers over the property.

The arborist underestimated CRR’s tree powers.

He slowly nursed the persimmon back to health, with some foul-smelling ointment and a burlap cIMG_1315 (2)oat that wrapped it for two seasons.

The giant locust was a bigger project. The arborist predicted it would eventually split in two, fall, and damage our house (or our neighbor’s). CRR brought in a landscaper who cabled the thickest trunks together – even the derecho of 2012, with its winds gusting up to 80 mph, didn’t bring it down.

Snowmageddon took a big chunk out of the magnificent magnolia that graces our front yard. The tree doctor said it would never regain its shape – wrong again, with CRR’s pruning guidance.

When 9-year-old Sam brought home a sycamore seedling from his school’s Earth Day celebration, he and CRR planted it and nursed it to the rangy specimen it is today.

His latest project? A bigleaf magnolia, a mere sapling now that promises plate-sized blooms in a year or two.

IMG_1284For his attention to the trees — mulberry, sycamore, magnolia, dogwood, crepe myrtle, arborvitae, pine, persimmon, locust, tulip poplar, ornamental cherry, cypress and a forest of hollies – CRR has earned the title of tree whisperer.

Happy Father’s Day to a wonderful husband and father of our two sons.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, Va.

 

 

 

 

I am contemplating Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima as we shift into Memorial Day weekend, a time when Americans remember our fallen warriors. I have no issue with the president’s visit – we must always remember and never forget.

Obama said: “Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.

“We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow. Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”

It seems so long ago. Some 60 million people died over the years that World War II raged, including the final acts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet my own family to this day represents the past and present.

My father sailed into Yokohama Bay as part of the conquering force, having expected to fight his way into Japan but for Harry S Truman’s decision to deploy the first and only atomic weapon. “Everybody knew we were going to Japan,” Dad told me. Then Truman made the fateful decision. In the awful aftermath, the U.S. Navy sailed on to Japan. Dad’s convoy ported at Yokohama, the Imperial Japanese naval base south of Tokyo. Over the next few months, he helped transport the tortured and emaciated American soldiers who had been liberated from Japan’s notorious POW camps to U.S. medical ships for treatment.

Fast forward 70 years. Our nephew Kyle, a Marine, visited last weekend. He was recently posted in Japan, and expects to return. His memories of Tokyo are far different from my father’s, and I am struck by that. Kyle’s stay in Japan took him to Tokyo and Okinawa and Mount Fuji and beyond. He talked of the blinding lights of Shibuya, the Japanese equivalent of Times Square, part of the long resurrection of Japan’s economy after the war years. He’s also stood sentinel at the DMZ in Korea, an ongoing symbol of the uneasy East-West relations.

Yes, Kyle is today’s face of our long military relationship with Japan. As was my father long long ago. Separated by seven decades, yet the mission eerily similar: Keeping the peace.

May we never forget.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, Va.

As I ambled around our gardens yesterday, glorying in the first real sunshine in two weeks, I marveled at the beauty of the roses. Big blooms, heady with perfume.

Then it struck me: Our roses utterly adore the British-like cool rainy weather that has marked the first weeks of May.

That triggered memories of a May trip to London. Mourning the loss of a job I loved, I skipped town – to London, to seek solace with Chris and Jeff.

Chris knew just what I needed: a week-long tour of gorgeous British gardens. From Regent’s Park to Kew Gardens to St. James’ Gardens and Chelsea’s physics garden, we admired and sniffed our way through glorious May flowers. The roses were incredible – bowers drooping with the thickly petaled roses of England, their scent drifting across the manicured lawns and parks.

Sissinghurst was the crown jewel of the week: more than 400 acres of flowers, just a short train ride away in Kent. Chris and I spent the day wandering from one beautiful corner to another of these storied gardens. Imposing crown imperials (George Washington’s favorite flower), tulips and dozens of varieties of daffodils. Clematis, wisteria, azaleas, honeysuckle. Penstemon, foxglove, allium.

And the roses, oh those roses. They were other-worldly in their abundance and beauty. On trellises, climbing up brick walls, adorning stone arches. The entire day was a sensory cacophony.

That trip was a balm to my soul. My mother had urged me for years to stop and smell the roses, a cliché that I disdained until, finally, it made perfect sense.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, Va.

My family has suffered a terrible tragedy. My 28-year-old nephew died over Memorial Day weekend while on a camping trip with his family deep in the mountains of Alaska. Dusty’s cause of death is still unknown. (Update: He died of heart failure)

I won’t/can’t go into the whole religion/higher being thing. He came from a Catholic lineage, and I know for a fact that faith will help my sister and her family cope with their grief. Everyone else will have to search for meaning in the seemingly senseless death of a vibrant young man.

There were many images posted to social media that proved Dusty’s mastery of the snow and the wilderness, as well as snowboard moves that stupefy city folk like me.

What spoke to me were the many visuals of Dusty with his brothers and sisters and parents and friends, the dime-a-dozen photos that become treasures only when a loved one is lost. I thank God that his family has hundreds of those images to remember Dusty. This is a family which lives life to the fullest, and relishes sharing it with each other.

This one video struck deep in my heart: Dusty’s brothers and a friend, 20-somethings at play on a children’s carousel, snatching a few moments of sheer delight from the depths of their sorrow. Check out their soulful glee.carousel

It reminds me of my own two sons, same age as their cousins, rediscovering their inner child on a playground in New Zealand.

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My only message here is to encourage you to hold your family and friends close, love and laugh, hug and be hugged. Because you never know when the merry-go-round will stop suddenly.

If you spend even a random weekend enjoying snow sports, consider giving money to the Alaska Avalanche School in memory of Dusty and those who live their lives ISO the best that nature offers.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

 

“Mayo is personal to me.”

This is how I opened my remarks to a group of journalists and Mayo Clinic doctors a few days ago. Mayo has been treating presidents, foreign royalty and VIPs like Lou Gehrig and Ernest Hemingway for 150 years. Mayo is celebrated for its global reach; Mayo also treats the humble in its midst.

If you were diagnosed with a life-threatening illness where I grew up, on the Minnesota-South Dakota border, you made a beeline to Mayo. My father came here for treatment of his prostate cancer. My uncles were treated at Mayo, as were many neighbors. One neighbor was diagnosed with lung cancer in the early 1970s, practically a death sentence back then, and Mayo nursed him through that cancer – and several more – until he finally succumbed 40 years later. Forty additional years of life.

Mayo is personal to me.

photoA little history. Dr. William Mayo was appointed by President Lincoln in 1864 to provide medical examinations of men joining the Union Army in Minnesota. In 1883, a tornado destroyed much of Rochester. The Mayo brothers, Charlie and William, then built the hospital that was the beginning of the mammoth complex that exists today. Mayo now treats 1.5 million patients a year.

Mayo won the Nobel Prize for creating cortisone (though lost out on a fortune in profits that went to Merck). Its list of achievements is so long I’ll just provide a link here. A long line of presidents have been treated by Mayo doctors: LBJ, Nixon, Bush I, Reagan and more. In the middle of rural, white, Norwegian Minnesota, Mayo is a multicultural island, a veritable United Nations of Mayo staff and patients from all over the world.

I was at Mayo this week as a healthy person, along with 25 journalists learning about individualized medicine, a concept that exists through the miracle of technology and science. It is another step in a long line of miracles that Mayo performs every day – the miracle of life.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

My son insisted (as only Sam can insist) that the best soup dumplings in all of Shanghai are made at Yang’s Fry Dumpling.

So I dutifully downloaded a list of 10 Yang’s across this city of 24 million. I kept an eye on the street signs as I traveled across Shanghai on business. Meanwhile, I had some pretty darn good soup dumplings (xiaolongbao) elsewhere: from the 6-for-$1 variety at a little shop serving students at Fudan University to the sophisticated crab soup dumplings at a YuYuan Gardens restaurant where President Clinton once dined.

On my last day in Shanghai, as I strolled People’s Square, I finally spotted a Yang’s, barely a hole in the wall. So even though it was 10:15 am, just a few hours after my buffet breakfast, I knew I had to eat a few more soup dumplings.P1000618

At Yang’s, you can watch the dumplings being made by hand. An assembly line of cooks rolls out dumplings by the hundreds. One worker throws a small ball of dough onto the counter and rolls it thin. The next smears the circle of dough with a congealed fatty sauce (this is what makes the soup part, so don’t flinch!) and adds the small meatball of choice: pork, shrimp, crab. Then the dough is quickly pleated into the classic soup dumpling style and transferred to a huge saute pan to cook by the dozen.

The fun comes next. You carefully place a soup dumpling into a spoon, poke a hole into the top with a chopstick and suck out the soupy goodness. Forget what your mother told you about manners and slurp away. The only sound you’ll hear across the room is slurp slurp slurp. Then carefully dip the dumpling into vinegar and savor the meatball and dough.

This is interactive food at its best. Oh, and Yang’s charges 6RMB ($1) for four big xiaolongbao, a bargain in any language.

P1000619Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening